3 questions that are critical to ask of all our youth work and ministry practice.

Shall we start with a reality check?

There is no magic answer, solution, gravy train, resource, method, model for youth work and ministry. There really isn’t. Anyone telling you this is merely on the hard sell, of their particular brand, style, event or model. Anyone telling you this is is hoping that they have it, that they experienced it and they’re clinging on to keep their particular dream alive. Or organisation. And i have been as guilty or complicit in this too. Though Id hope not because id peddle my own faith upbringing as the only path for others to have..

But I know you’re probably reading this because you want an answer, a style, a method or a model to solve the current problems, concerns you may have about your youth work practice. Whether it is about children leaving messy church, or young people on the streets, or the YF being boring and running out of ideas.

And running out of ideas is one of the main issues isn’t it? A key factor in youth worker burnout. They run out of ideas.

Yet, youth ministry isnt an entertainment industry… is it..?

If you are reading this hoping for the magic answer, then you may well end up being disappointed, but well done for getting this far. The questions are coming.

Because on one hand I am slightly tired of the models and methods, the research, and the moaning, about why people leave their faith, or why a model didn’t work because it worked elsewhere (or in 1983), yet without looking at what is going on at a deeper level with young people, then models, methods are still unlikely to work. But they kept being tried… Working doesn’t mean attendance, or young people paying for something. Because.. its not the values of the entertainment industry that we’re looking for.. is it?

So, what are the 3 questions that we should ask of all our youth work and ministry practices? And ask repeatedly and all the time. They are:

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples belonging?

Does what we do/about to do increase young peoples autonomy?

Does what we do/are about to do increase young peoples sense of competence?

 

What you say – no  mention of Jesus?  no mention of values? no mention of ………(fill in the blank)

Yes. Agreed. No mention of those things. Because, look closely and you will find those things in these three questions.

Belonging. 

Relationships have been front, centre and under pretty much all of youth work and ministry practice. You really dont need me to pull out all the references for this. But relationships are one thing. A sense of belonging and connection is another. If we hope that ‘our relationship’ with a young person as a single youth worker or volunteer is crucial, we may be misguided, because its a sense of belonging that young people crave, (secret: we all do).  So… do young people feel they belong in the church family, do they feel they belong in their school, do they feel they belong in their public park, do they feel they belong in their town. Our relationship with a young person might be critical, especially if it helps to help them have a greater sense of belonging.

How might the whole church help a young person (s) belong? How might the town help young people belong who also want to express their anger at austerity through anti social behaviour?

So – how might what we do/ what is bout to be done – help young peoples sense of belonging?

 

Autonomy

This may seem to stand in contradiction to belonging and connection. But it isnt. Autonomy may mean that young people can make their own decisions, and as an individual, however, autonomy can also become something that our youth work and ministry should create, in order that young people can have a say in decision making processes, in decisions that affect them, affect the youth ministry/work itself and also the wider faith community and organisation. Autonomy is a key motivator for us all, we all like to be kings of our own castle. Yet at the same time, reflect on the situations where young people in the group, or organisation had any autonomy over the activity, process, style and nature of the group.

We might use the term participation, and that in a way is a graded scale of how young people do have increased decision making/autonomy.  Because after all, increasing young peoples participation is not that far from helping them to meet some of their self determined goals. Their goals about the club, group, community.. their dreams, visions, their collective passions for these things

I have written extensively on participation, some of these are my most read pieces.. its clearly a need, to think through and reflect.

Though i have suggested this one is second in this list of three. I think its the most important. Especially in churches and youth ministry.

 

Thirdly, Competence

What can your youth work and ministry do – to help young people feel that they acheieved something, they made something happen, they did well?

And it doesnt need to be personal – but it could be

It doesnt need to be social – but it could be

They did well doing the reading in a service is one thing, they did well speaking up at the leaders meeting another. They did well writing to their MP on climate change, they did well showing generosity and grace to others in the group. They did well…..

Nothing like doing well isnt it.

You know what that feels like?  probably not.

Will you only tell young people they did well at something when you get positive feedback for all your efforts, your hard work, your job? Id hope not.  You might have to give and continually give praise, even if you dont receive it.

But its not just the praise. It is the situations in which there is a possibility of being able to. When working on the streets its easy to affirm young peoples football skills, or how they ct with each other. It is their environment. So, how might the space of the youth group, club or project also be a space that encourages competence, encourages risk taking activity that stretches our known behaviours and praises the actions that are taken.

Youthwork that has craft activities are brilliant at this, if we can encouraging the simple making of things that are fairly easy so that everyone can do something well. the same with cooking, or fixing bikes, or sports or video games… its not quite the same with movies.

Its no coincidence that uniformed youthwork organisations with badges and awards continue to be very popular.

How might young people feel, if they are part of a group or project in which they leave each session feeling like they have achieved something, have developed a skill, have something to take home, have created something? Yes.. exactly…

 

 

If you need to think further about these three things through a faith lens, then do so. If you want to think about them in the context of the divine relationship between humanity and God, in terms of divine and human action, in terms of free will, prayer, and being made in the image of God, then do so. I would encourage it. It would be good to have that discussion. if you want to have a look at these things through discipleship or mission, through church then do so. You should also be able to see where these things mirror core youthwork values, like participation, empowerment and valuing the individual. Some of those reflections have already been done by Jocelyn Bryan in her excellent book, referenced below.

So, faith and theology is not my starting point for these. It is psychology.

If this all feels a bit more on the psychological side of things then it is. But thats ok isnt it. Because psychology could help us in youth work and ministry in a way couldn’t it. After all, we’ve tried sociology to death with all the generationalism surveys, and that hasn’t got anyone anywhere. Aside from selling resources.

But, you want to make a real difference in your group, your church, you organisation with young people. Don’t worry about second guessing their interests because they’re millenial. Try instead looking at the deep things that motivate them. Try looking at how belonging, autonomy and competence are part of their lives, try seeing where they find these things already. Try doing what you can to find them in the group, project and activity that you run. Of course this is hard work, of course this might require shifts. Who said this was in any way easy…

The reason these questions are crucial – because they’re the same one we ask of ourselves. Young people, are no different to us.

 

Further Reading: 

Human Being, Jocelyn Bryan, 2016.

 

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The 12 days of Christmas (The youthwork cupboard clutter version)

After some ‘careful’ research via social media, and some willing participants, who might need counselling after disclosing, it time for the annual 12 days of Christmas song, this year its the  the youth work cupboard clutter version.

So, if ‘your true love’ had found their way to the youth work/ministry cupboard, and gave gifts according to what they might have found, these might be on the list. Own up, you know it could easily be you, Easily because weve all done the ‘we’ll use that again one day’ or ‘thatll come in useful’ another day thing. And its left to rot or waste space.

Some of these items were found by the ‘next project’ to use the building, after the previous one left suddenly – or left the items on purpose. Either way, these are all genuine articles found, discovered or are lurking currently in the ‘youth cupboards’ in the UK. Bought because of a funding bid so specific the equipment was never going to be used again, bought for a talk or session so bad never to be repeated. Now this christmas, it is their chance, once ignored and beaten up to shine…

Now, for brevity, I will not be rewriting the lyrics for each ‘day’ but im sure you get the drift, and thanks especially to those who made contributions that fit the original song, and poetic license required for when there wasnt quite the right number…

 

Image result for 12 days of christmas

 

All together now (you know the tune)…
On the first day of Christmas – my youth worker gave to me.. An Ann Summers (rubber) penis hoopla and a sachet of lube (‘credit’ Jenni Eleri & Zoe Cumberland)
In the second Christmas clear out the worker gave to me.. Several ceramic tiles and an Ann Summers……etc etc     (Thanks Naomi Thompson)
In the third Christmas clear out the worker left behind… 3 garden shovels, several ceramic tiles… (hasnt everyone tried an allotment project..?)
On the 4th day of Christmas, discovered at the back; (a) full-size arcade dance mat  (circa fitness project 2004, thanks Shannon Hart)
On the 5th day of Christmas my youth store gave to me, 
5 golden toilet-seats
(‘which funding bid did this require..?’  thanks Pamela Campbell for this one, there was only 1 but its gold and it fits the tune)
On the 6th day of Christmas the youth store shared with me.. 6 wooden clothes pegs  (thanks Liz Skudder)
On the 7th day of Christmas, the youth store gave to me;   7 inflatable rhinos (there was only 1, and its a rumour, but still, really.. why even need one of these? .. again Mark Tiddy..)
On the 8th day of Christmas, the youth store then revealed ; 8 Rubber turkeys (thanks Kirsty Thomas) 
On the 9th day of Christmas the youth store then revealed ; 9 miniature garden gnomes (Lucie Hutson, any ideas why?)
On the 10th day of sorting, the cupboard then disclosed, 250 rub-ber ducks  (thanks Mark Tiddy (and ‘two-fifty’ does fit the tune) )
On the 11th day of Christmas, the youth store then embellished; 11 defunct PC cables (or monitors, keyboards, ‘mice’, cables etc etc, from when the computer room was last redecorated, in 2007)
On the 12th day of Cleaning, the youth store shared with me, 12 brown monk outfits (credit Liz Dumain, and yes, 12 of them.. )

sadly,, the list of things that didnt quite get given away this christmas also couold have included; 14 copper kettles, a roll your own ‘joints’ kit, a box of rubber foetuses, and an box of chlamydia testing kits.

 

Well. What can I say. There’s a number of stories to be told about many many of these. And that’s hopefully before any of them might have been young peoples lost property. Does your youthwork store have a number of secrets, just by the junk that has been left behind? waiting for the project to come back again in full cycle. Or the time to tell that ‘story’ that needed 250 rubber ducks, or game that needed a toilet seat. Yes its a game.. apparently……. Maybe its none of that at all. Maybe its that everyone else is chucking out their rubbish and thinks ‘could i donate this ‘rubbish’ to those creative youth workers to do something with it, and the youth workers feel obliged to take it instead of saying no (because we like ‘free things’) and now the cupboard is full of rubber ducks, monks outfits, golden toilet seats and a box of lube. Tell you what, I’m glad Ofsted doesnt inspect youth work cupboards…give a gift this Christmas, but maybe not from the back of the youth work cupboard.

And if anyone needs counselling after reading this… or maybe just a serious tidy up…

 

Early announcement

in January I will be starting a Patreon site in which, for a small membership fee, you will be able to read and enjoy my articles without the advertising and do so a little earlier than those published here.  To see a preview of the site visit https://www.patreon.com/preview/7fe77e87f2864f06adc06aa58e6151cd . Ill keep you posted on when the new site is launched. Before then, any donation please click the ‘Donate’ tab above. Thank you

 

Performing Evangelism at the Anglican Diocesan Youth Adviser Conference. (Slides included)

Today I have had the privilege of being able to make a contribution at the Annual conference for all the Church of England Diocesan Youth Advisers, on the subject of Evangelism.

I was part of a four header, in which 3 others also contributed to the discussion. All shared of their experiences, their projects, their trials and how they related what they did theologically. It was fascinating.

What was fascinating was that all of the pieces of practice emphasised working in the specific context. as a contrast, none spoke of culture. All spoke of how faith with young people became something organic, and occured when the environment was right for young people to take a risk. Very few talked about evangelism that is outside of the ongoing process of facilitating spaces for young people to opt into faith, often in a very everyday manner.  Its as if discipleship & evangelism & church all sort of combine, and thats ok if young people are contributing, participating and becoming of faith.

The sessions didnt include many of the buzzwords like ‘lost generation’ , intentional, or ‘reaching’ – the practice of contextual youth work provision, of developing conversation, groups and the slow generation of faith in a specific place seemed to be at the core. Long term presence accompanied by meeting needs, showing interest, faithfulness and acting in love with young people, and along the way taking the odd risk with spirituality or waiting for the moment.

It was also great to have conversations with some of the diocesan youth advisers and be inspired by the work of others in the projects.

On my drive home I started to ponder a number of questions from the day, some prompted by the sessions given, and also the questions directed to the panel of the four of us, keep an eye on my next few articles over the next week to see whether my train of thoughts on working with young people in a faith context might be useful. The theme of performance is interesting as this was something raised twice, as are concerns about Faith, the kind of faith that young people have, and also how to evaluate success. They may all feature in further discussions here. (you can click the follow button to receive these)

However, in the meantime, and at the end of a long day of travel and talking I here is a link to the powerpoint slides for anyone interested: click this link: Diocesan Youth Adviser Conference presentation 2017 – not sure anyone who wasnt there could make sense of them. Theres a good conversation of the themes and discussions via twitter on #dyo17 if thats something you want to engage with too.

Anyway, thats all for now. Thank you to all in the room for the inspiration, conversations and stories.

 

 

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